Even for the virtually unknown, there is always Hope. For proof, look to first-year pro and graduate as well as first MLB Draftee of Hope International University, Cameron Baranek.
Born February 1995, Cameron Baranek attended Canyon High School in Orange, CA where he earned All-American Honorable Mention honors in his senior year before attending JuCo at Santa Ana. There, Baranek hit .344/.434/.534 over two years. Prior to that, he was recruited to Hope International University, a Private Christian school in nearby Fullerton for their second baseball season.
There, for the newly crowned Royals, Baranek enjoyed a standout season, one which put him in both school and district record books and led his team to their first conference title and to the top seed in the conference’s playoff. Baranek placed in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category in his conference, the Golden State Athletic Conference, including BA (.344, 8th) and OBP (.434, 3rd). At season’s end, Baranek was named an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention, the first in program history.
While being incredibly proud of what he was able to accomplish and attribute to the attention and concentrated tutelage of his coaches at HIU, Baranek hopes his exports at Hope pave the way for the program to become a baseball powerhouse.
“It’s quite an honor being able to represent HIU, and being the first draft pick from the school. The school and coaching staff were so helpful in every aspect to allow me to be the best student athlete I could be,” Baranek said. “Being a smaller Christian school with a focus on quality education and it’s a really awesome place for growth, the coaching staff and baseball program is top notch and to get a good foundation and name in its second year is huge and hopefully will draw more athletes alike with the same goals to win a championship and make it to the next level.”
Baranek parlayed his record-setting junior season at HIU into a .234/.306/.351 season in the Gulf Coast League in 2017. While those numbers may not be particularly impressive on paper, when you consider those 111 ABs were Baranek’s first above the Division II collegiate ranks and first with a wood bat, they appear very respectable. In addition, Baranek drove in 22 runs, second most on the team (in just 29 of the team’s 55 games). He also stole the third most bases on the team (6).
Regarding how he was able to adjust so quickly to the staunch rise in competition level as well as the change in bat material from metal to wood, Baranek says that despite some growing pains in the midst of his first season, it was all about remaining open to change and, in that spirit, making positive adjustments at the plate.
“After being drafted I was coming off a good collegiate year and had some success to start, along with some struggles I had to face about halfway through which was good for me to grow and learn my body and swing and how to mature as a professional player,” Baranek said. “I’ve always loved using wood bats hut they’re definitely not as forgiving as metal, so when you get hits they’re true as can be. Took the good and tried to learn how to make adjustments when things don’t come as easy in the box.”
The work Baranek put in last season in the GCL didn’t go unnoticed. This season, the Marlins skipped the 23-year-old past short season ball and straight to his first year in full season A with the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Baranek responded to the promotion by hitting .319/.402/.479 in 28 South Atlantic League games, numbers which each ranked in the top 10 on the circuit at the time. Regarding how he was able to enjoy continued success despite the massive jump from the D-II metal bat collegiate league to full season A ball after just 29 games in the short season rookie ball ranks, Baranek attributes it all to remaining open to changing as his frame did the same maintaining a positive attitude even when things aren’t going his way and in taking pride in his exports.
There are three things that helped Baranek the most in Greensboro and that will continue to serve him as he progresses: his faith, sticking to his roots and remembering a motto that is continuously imparted on him by a close friend and mentor.
“No one feels bad for you when you line out over and over so just sticking with a good approach and my trust and faith in God definitely keeps me as level headed and confident as I can be when things are going good or not as well as they could be,” Baranek said. “”It’s a marathon, not a race,” my scout always says. It is a helpful concept when it comes to any short term adversities that may go on during a season.”
In response to Baranek’s great start with the Grasshoppers this year, the Marlins gave him another promotion after just 27 games, one game shy of the 28 he spent in the GCL before his first call-up. Through his first 19 games with Jupiter, Baranek’s hot for-average hitting continued as he hit .270, thanks in part to hitting in 10 of 11 games from June 29-July 11. Though he has cooled off a bit of late, Baranek enters each game with the same mindset: remain thankful, stay humble and keep the game fun.
“I’m just loving the opportunity and confidence that our organization has shown. I’m going to do everything I can to help a team win, and will fight until the end in every way I can. It’s an honor to play professional baseball and I don’t every want to take it for granted,” Baranek said. “My parents and my faith definitely keep my drive and my heart very innocent playing this game. I have just as much or more fun as I did being a kid playing wiffle ball in the front yard, so for me to be on this stage is awesome and I only hope to keep adjusting swinging hard, and Lord willing continue to climb the ladder and grow as a player and teammate.”
Above all, perhaps the best testament to Baranek’s drive and will to succeed is the fact that his body was surgically repaired three times early in his playing career. Despite the setbacks though, Baranek’s attitude to repay the favor to do as much as, if not more, for his body than it has done for him has prevailed and allowed him to make it as a pro.
“I’ve always had a passion for fitness and staying in shape. Just like Jeter and so many great players have said about people being more talented, but no one should outwork you I keep that mindset in every facet because if I’m not doing everything I can to take care of my body, I’m not giving myself the best chance on the field,” Baranek said. “Injuries are inevitable at times but the farther I can stay away from that by being healthy and in shape the better. Can’t help a team win in the training room. Having a little extra strength to help a smaller guy like me get a few over the fence isn’t the worst thing either.”
Built 5’10”, 195, the lefty hitter makes up for his stout size by exhibiting above average bat speed and good plate coverage via the ability to get extended across the zone. His swing is mostly lateral with slight uppercut action and he stays through it well with great steady balance giving him the potential to find gaps and the occasional fence. Though he has some filling out to do against quality breaking stuff especially from same side pitching, it’s nothing pro coaching can’t rectify.
On top of his intriguing offensive prowess, Baranek carries plus defensive abilities, skills that have allowed him to flash a 90 mph+ arm with good carry and lines and great reads off the bat which have allotted him a .966 fielding percentage and 2.48 range factor across all three outfield positions, including in the massive Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium yard.
Chalk Baranek up as a lefty hitting threat that has the floor of a righty mashing platoon option who plays great defense off a MJor League bench. With improvement against same side pitching, he has the ceiling of a top of the order catalytic threat. For now, Baranek, never the one to put more pressure on himself than necessary, says he’s enjoying the process spurred by the support of his family (miles apart or not) and will welcome the role life places him in, wherever that be.
“My family is all the way back in Southern California so I missed them a lot but it’s been nice talking to my mom and going over bible studies and keeping in touch with them. Gives me a little taste of home when I’m out here,” Baranek said. “I appreciate my family and coaches always being supportive and helping me along the way. God’s always got me and I’m just going along for the ride and enjoying every step.”